Juggling Act: An Interview With Matt Jung and Taylor Gramkow of Wellen & Grover

June 06, 2014 BY OBI ANYANWU

Only some people have a talent for keeping three balls in midair, but it's safe to say that we can all learn how to juggle very quickly. When it comes to career juggling, new projects and ventures get tossed on to our day jobs, and they can not become overwhelming if we're passionate about them. "Remembering why we've started the brands in the first place helps us grow them with the right creative approach," said Matt Jung, founder and creative director of Wellen and Grover. "In this sense we really benefit from doing the things that we love. Wellen, Grover, Wellen Women, and Grover & Friends all come from a place of passion," and that passion is an unwritten law of juggling. Passion stands above time management and wearing multiple hats, and it shows in the success and growth of Jung's business. We've had the opportunity to speak with Jung and Taylor Gramkow, director of marketing at Wellen and Grover, about juggling multiple projects, the importance of creative direction, and upcoming projects.

Can you tell us about Wellen - what's the back story? How did it get started?

Matt Jung: Wellen was started in 2007 as a surfboard company. What started as a hobby grew into a business with our surfboards gaining some notoriety. We eventually expanded Wellen into a lifestyle-clothing brand built on the idea of being a classic, carefree, Gentleman Surfer. That brand positioning has guided us at every step and is represented in the various products we offer - carefree tees, tanks, and trunks for the summer and refined, high-quality cut-and-sew pieces and suiting that still appeal to those who live the surf lifestyle. Our cut and sew items are made locally in Downtown Los Angeles and we've worked hard to differentiate Wellen in the men's surf market. We're a bit of a hybrid - one foot in the surf world and another in the fashion world.

How is Wellen related to Grover, and what's the story behind Grover?

MJ: Grover was born out of an insight gained working on a window display for Wellen at American Rag CIE. Long story short, we identified with then buyer, James Hammonds, about a gap in the men's basics market of consistent, well fitting, local basics in colors that would be available forever. The insight being that if you find a brand and a color-way you love you're more likely to buy it again the next season. Thus Grover was born. We've worked hard to develop the product offering and keeping it simple. We're a contemporary men's basics brand offering consistent products that our guys feel are staples in their wardrobe. Our items are offered in 19-colors and we work to create everything with a mile of the office here in the Arts District. Grover continues to grow season after season and our men's boxer has been a standout for us.

What other brands do you work with?

Taylor Gramkow: Our primary endeavors are Wellen and Grover. That said we have many projects going on at all times. We're expanding the Wellen brand with the launch of Wellen Women. A toned down Women's line that's creating classically designed apparel. We are working to create items that women will covet – their own instant classics. We want Women to feel like their best selves when wearing Wellen Women. We're excited. (You can contribute to the Kickstarter campaign behind Wellen Women here.)

We also work on a Men's Subscription service called Grover & Friends. We joke that Grover & Friends is omakase fashion for men. Every month we curate a box for our customers by developing new Grover product and working with small, interesting, Friends to bring our customers curated monthly goods. To date, our Friends have been Ursa Major, Topo Deisgns, Richer-Poorer, KWAY, Ebbets Field Flannels, Fair Ends, and PF Candle Co. The best part of the project is working with these incredible brands to bring our Grover subscribers product they may never have heard of or have the confidence to buy on their own. So, in a sense, we're bringing our customers these thematic assortments every month that help them expand their palette and wardrobe and also educate them on brands that are doing great work. It’s part wardrobe building and part education. You never know what's coming and we like to keep it that way. Chef's choice, right?!

Will Wellen Women's also go the route of "one foot in the surf world and another in the fashion world"? I'm curious to know what that would look like.

TG: This idea runs throughout everything that we do here. It’s part of our DNA. In much the same way Wellen lives in both the surf and fashion industries, Wellen Women will take on a similar personality. We'll balance the things we love and the lifestyle that guides the brand with the demands of the Los Angeles fashion industry. If we're making incredibly strong product and doing it with our inspiration in mind then we're achieving the balance between the two worlds.

Our first product release this summer offers a few essential items designed with the three Wellen muses in mind - pieces that women will covet. We are using incredibly high-quality materials and all of our items are made locally in Downtown Los Angeles with factories and local artisans that we have been working with for years.

What are some changes you have made to better work with multiple brands?

TG: There are certainly some pros and cons from managing multiple projects across multiple brands. I would say that the positives are that with every new brand or project we're getting better. We're constantly pushing our limits and that of our team – to constantly do more and really innovate. We've had to make changes in the way we operate to make sure that all of the projects get a fair shake. We've improved the way we work from team management to wholesale shipping. Streamlining everything we do gives us more time to think strategically, creatively, and help us grow. It's not always easy wearing multiple hats and prioritization can be difficult, but we have a fantastic team - a small team, but a great one. If you're part of Wellen and Grover you're family. We operate like that and with that we see an incredible dynamic that allows all of our brands to get the attention they need.

How do you decide whom you want to work with? Do you choose brands with philosophies that resonate with you?

TG: We realized early on that the one luxury we had as a small business is that we get to choose who we work with. We've empowered ourselves with that guideline and we choose to work with like-minded people who we share that vision with. If that's on a collaboration, a piece of press, a Friend for our Grover & Friends box - to truly enjoy what you're doing you have to find people you share values with.

As an example, Grover & Friends is produced every month by a really small internal team. We concept the box, design and manufacture the product, find the friends, market and brand, pack and ship all as a team of about five people in a 30-day window. It’s incredibly labor intensive but we love it. So, when we choose what Friend brand we want to work with we make sure that we share similar values. Be that production process, brand vision, or personality – we make sure that we find folks that are doing interesting things. People we can learn from along the way. People that make us better and with whom we can share ideas. When you get into the thick of your work – it’s those people, experiences, and partnerships that raise you up and keep you moving forward. That's true of all our projects.

With so many companies around today, how important is creative direction in differentiating a brand?

MJ: Creative Direction is essential in today's marketplace. We want to invest in ourselves as a brand to constantly make our work better -- To lay the bricks of our foundation and re-point when necessary. That process all boils down into truly knowing who we are as a brand and knowing our intentions so that every decision we make is meaningful. If that's a new product design, collaboration, photo, whatever…it all has to be true to our brand personality.

In this sense we really benefit from doing the things that we love. Wellen, Grover, Wellen Women, and Grover & Friends all come from a place of passion. Remembering why we've started the brands in the first place helps us grow them with the right creative approach. So many brands come and go, pop and fade, because they launch with faulty foundations - foundations that aren't engineered for the long haul.

Focusing on building our foundation is our vision of creative direction. Continuing our commitment to being true to our original visions and ourselves, trusting the reason for starting the brands, the reasons we do it day in and day out - that's creative direction.

TG: What's important to us is conveying the right message when we can in a way that's authentic to our brands. Communicating with like-minded people and putting ourselves out there. We're not for everybody, not everybody shares the vision – and that's ok! When we do have the chance to communicate on a larger scale we want to prioritize a few things: quality, personality, and service.

Do you feel that each brand you work with complement each other in some way?

MJ: Absolutely, all of our brands are incredibly different in personality. A carefree surf brand, a contemporary men's brand, a subscription box, a Women's line. It’s sometimes hard to believe that the same people are behind all four of them, but that's what keeps things fun and interesting. And damn hard by the way! But it’s all a labor of love. For as much contrast as there is between the brands there's tremendous similarity. Each project pushes the other forward as we're constantly evolving and improving. We're so far from perfect and that's exactly where we want to be. The foundation is strong for all of our projects: the ways we work, the vision and goals, the team, the process and in that sense all of our brands complement each other. Now we're just chasing ourselves to be better and to push each brand we work on ahead.

Any more ventures lined up?

MJ: We're very focused on the launch of Wellen Women right now. We believe there's a demand for our approach to the women's surf market and that our ideology will be well received by the market. So, lots of our focus has been in launching the project and moving it forward from the drafting table to the hands of our consumers.

We're also working on a new Grover collaboration that we're very excited about. We have partnered with Waraire Boswell, the high-end Los Angeles tailor who's work is of incredible quality. His clientele includes many of the NBA elite because he himself, at 6' 7" understands the challenges of finding good product for that body type. We've created a project called BOSWELL x GROVER where we're bringing a hybrid basic program under Boswell's name and ours. A blending of his style and ours that offers really unique product for guys that are 5'7" to 6'7".

All photos are from Wellen Holiday '14 Collection.